News Media’s Problem is How They Get Paid

newspaper lying on a laptop keyboard
newspaper lying on a laptop keyboard

Looking through the history of news companies and how they drew revenue will paint a different picture as to how we receive our information today. Since the inception of the internet, the need for newspapers has declined at a very sharp rate. It’s been estimated that they have gone from a mid-40 billion industry, down to somewhere in the single digits.

Let’s say each newspaper sold was worth 65 cents to the company taking these factors into consideration:

  • Individually sold in news racks/ businesses
  • Discounted subscriptions
  • Advertising revenue

Now let’s say a newspaper’s market was a mid-sized city where they sell 100,000 print copies a day. 

$0.65 x 100,000 = $65,000 in daily revenue

$65,000 x 365 days = $23,725,000 in yearly revenue

Now, I could be wrong on the numbers here, but that’s not the point. The point is even small market newspapers were multi-million dollar operations. They were able to pay reporters, copywriters, graphic designers, photographers, paper carriers, etc. They purchased expensive equipment like printing machines, paper, ink, and delivery vans. They could pay for travel expenses for their employees as well. Plus take on a lot of other miscellaneous expenses.

Enter the Internet – Destroyer of Revenues

newspaper machines covered in snow

There is a big reason why my hometown had to shudder its printing press and move from a very large building to a small office downtown. The internet. It completely destroyed the industry and in a very quick time frame. Layoffs occurred, wages slashed, offices downsized, the whole nine yards. 

Newspaper sales have given way to digital advertising – a very cheap revenue stream. This relies solely on incoming traffic and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. This has changed the landscape, because now your attention is how they get paid. The biggest problem is getting your attention since the internet is saturated with information. 

A Younger Generation is Tasked with Informing Us

Group of people writing notes by hand and typing on computers

This is why a lot of journalists today are getting jobs right out of college, they’re entry level and cheaper than journalists who are experienced by several years. As I write this, I’m 37 years of age. I can remember graduating college and then immediately hitting the wall when thrust into the professional setting. There was so much to learn and you had to pay your dues. Today, I know far more than my 22 year-old self and probably wouldn’t take any advice from him…on anything.

I’m not saying today’s journalists haven’t paid their dues and aren’t talented. I just have a hard time believing that I can learn anything about the world from an entry-level staffer who has the power to influence others. It just seems that under this new model of revenue-saving by necessity, quality of information is sure to suffer. 

The Trustworthiness of Newspapers and the Internet

With newspapers, the story is printed on paper and then sent out for sale. You could not change that story once printed. There was a lot more trust here. If people felt they were lied to all the time by their newspaper, they could unsubscribe en mass. If they did it repeatedly, they could lose their audience and a competitor could invade their stranglehold on the demographic it once dominated.

With the internet, words can be changed immediately. Hypothetically, anything that was written from the mid 90s online can be changed. You can not only change news stories, but anything you want online within minutes. You can even change definitions of words (which is why I keep a dictionary published prior to the internet handy). Each website’s content is written by somebody. Let me ask you, can you trust everybody in the world who has a website?

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